India’s elite commando force is trained to tackle terror but not traffic anarchy on a thoroughfare that the National Highways Authority of India can’t and the Mamata Banerjee government won’t widen.
Two mock drills have proved that the National Security Guard, which has set up base at Badu near Madhyamgram, is as helpless as anyone caught in the madness of traffic snarls on the stretch of Jessore Road from Barasat till the No. 1 airport gate.
In a recent report to the Union home ministry, the NSG described how a 14-vehicle convoy struggled to cover the 8km stretch from Badu till the airport in mock drills conducted months apart.
Sources said the first of the drills saw the convoy taking 22 minutes to reach the cargo apron bay of the airport. The second exercise took even longer: 25 minutes.
“The first drill had started around 6am and the second one at 11am. The commandos had a pilot vehicle guiding them down the road in accordance with NSG guidelines. But it seems no road-clearing party can do anything about this perennially choked road,” said an NSG officer.
An NSG team should ideally be ready for airlift within 45 minutes of a call. For the unit stationed at Badu, that entails covering the 8km distance from their base till the airport within 10 minutes.
“All you need to do is travel at a safe average speed of 60kmph and 8km can be covered with two minutes to spare. But on both occasions, we took more than double the stipulated time to reach the cargo apron bay of the airport,” the officer said.
Metro has been highlighting poor traffic management along Jessore Road and the cascading effect on VIP Road, resulting in travellers missing flights frequently. On September 6, at least 40 people had missed their flights after being stuck in traffic snarls on VIP Road for several hours.
“The road has since been repaired but traffic management has remained the same. Going down Jessore Road if you have an evening flight to catch is always risky,” said Chitralekha Mukherjee, who stays in Madhyamgram.
If traffic management is poor (and non-existent on some days), encroachment is rampant. Illegal garages and truck parking on the stretch between Gate No. 2.5 and the BT College intersection in New Barrackpore have added to the problem.
The NHAI last year returned 17km of road between Gate No. 2.5 of the airport and the Santoshpur intersection in Barasat to the state government, saying it was unable to widen that stretch of the NH 34 for want of land. Mamata’s hands-off policy on land acquisition has ensured that the status quo continues.
The NSG too has partly blamed encroachment for its commuting horror. The problem points mentioned in its report to Delhi are the mess at the Madhyamgram intersection and the police’s failure to handle choked traffic; the unmanned link roads along Jessore Road; the bus stops at intersections and the illegal constructions.
“The police have been of help but their traffic management needs to be much better for us to be able to do our job,” Ajay Singh, a senior NSG official, said from New Delhi.
The NSG has recommended a flyover at the Madhyamgram four-point intersection in a letter to PWD minister Sudarshan Ghosh Dastidar.
The eastern hub of the NSG was set up last September. It’s area of operation spans 12 states.